Bullsbrook strawberry farm investigated for underpaying workers again

Strawberry property TI Strawberries in Bullsbrook. Picture: David Baylis
Strawberry property TI Strawberries in Bullsbrook. Picture: David Baylis

A BULLSBROOK strawberry farm is being investigated by the Fair Work Ombudsman for the second time after claims of underpaying backpackers re-emerged.

Ti Produce Marketing Pty Ltd and associated labour-hire company Ti Labourforce Pty Ltd are under fire from the watchdog after former workers claimed they were paid as low as $4 an hour.

The Woolworths supplier voluntarily paid back staff after being previously investigated, however workers told the ABC they were being underpaid as recently as three months ago.

Former worker Yun Ji Park said she earned an average of $200 per week when she worked at the farm in May.

“It was barely enough to cover my rent,” she said.

“(When I saw my payslip) my heart is broken.

“I was angry and I always wanted to quit the job but when I was working there, I couldn’t find another job.”

British backpacker David Fowler said he worked at the “forced labour camp” for just a week.

“We were expected to do anything, sort of up to 14-hour days from 8am to 10pm standing in a packing shed constantly staring at strawberries,” he said.

“After a 14-hour shift, you start to ache.”

He said despite the long hours, he earnt around $7 per hour; more than $10 below the minimum wage of $17.70.

“We got paid 15 cents for packing a punnet of strawberries, that 15 cents actually included your super contribution so it was more like 13 and a half cents,” he said.

“To meet the minimum required pay to be on piecework rates, you would have had to pack a punnet of strawberries every 20 seconds.”

A spokesman for the Fair Work Ombudsman told The Advocate it was continuing to assist a number of workers formerly employed at the farm in relation to alleged underpayments.

“The investigation of those requests for assistance has revealed that a number of the workers at the farm had been underpaid their lawful minimum entitlements,” the spokesman said.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman is conscious many fruit pickers are young overseas workers, who may be vulnerable if they are not fully aware of their rights, are reluctant to complain or face language barriers.

“In 2014, the Fair Work Ombudsman also commenced a national review of the wages and conditions of overseas workers in Australia on the 417 working holiday visa after receiving allegations that some unscrupulous operators were exploiting backpackers.”

The spokesman also confirmed that an investigation into new allegations had commenced.

However, the farmer owner said in a statement the allegations were from a couple of years ago, and had since been rectified.

“Some people have in the past earned very low rates but these are usually people that come to the farm to complete their regional work requirement to obtain a second year visa,” the statement said.

“They usually either have no interest towards and sometimes even resent having to do farm work.”